I'm sitting on a busy subway train in Manhattan, listening to some tunes. This is a normal situation, something I do a dozen times a week. What isn't normal is that I only hear my music, and I don't hear any of the train or crowd noise around me. Instead, my music is backed by white noise. No panhandlers or chatty kids or the screech of subway wheels on rails. Doppler Labs's Here One wireless earbuds are blocking out all that nonesense so I can focus on my tunes.
All Images: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo
Building on the Here Active Listening product that made its limited debut back in 2016, the idea behind the Here One earbuds is that you can adjust the sounds happening around you in real-time — muting obnoxious noises when you want to listen to tunes, but filtering them back in when you need to hear the course of traffic or an announcement from the train conductor. The earbuds, which are comfortable and about the diameter of a dime, are actually tiny little computers with built-in microphones.
According to Doppler Labs, the microphones can process sound in real time, altering what you hear. Using a smartphone app (I tested it with an iPhone), you can adjust the sound happening around you in real-time. It's such a useful feature that it constituted the entire functionality of the product released last year. But while last year's Hear Active Listening System was geared more towards live music nuts who wanted to tweak what they were listening to and make up for the deficiencies of the sound guys at whatever venue they were attending.
What makes Here One compelling — and a huge improvement over its predecessor — is that the product works as a set of normal Bluetooth earbuds too. When paired with your phone, you can listen to your music or podcasts or whatever, but you can also layer that noise with the augmented sounds happening around you.
As a result, I could sit on the subway listening to a podcast with white noise filling the rest of my experience, blocking out the talking around me. If I wanted to add a filter for city noises, or if I wanted to increase or decrease the ambient noise behind me, I could do that too.
The software, though a little buggy, is remarkably solid. And the trick of controlling the noise around you works much better than I expected it to work.
Yet as cool as the augmented hearing stuff is, I still got the most value out of the Here One buds as actual earphones. Even without any noise filters, I found myself liking the Here One buds as just regular wireless headphones. They are comfortable and have great sound quality.
But at $US300 and with only two hours of battery life (you can recharge with an included charging case that will give you another six hours or so of listening juice), the price is a bit high if you just want some great Bluetooth headphones. Apple's AirPods have better battery life and cost half the price.
And though that experience is cool, it's also something you have to think about. I'm not quite used to having to open up an app in order to make my earbuds sound as cool as they could. Sometimes it's just easier to use them as regular earphones.
Still, I can't help but be impressed by what Doppler Labs has accomplished. Here One deliver on the promise of being able to control sound around you. The question is, how many people will want to pay $US300 for the experience. Right now it might just be the live music fans who are also in the market for some solid bluetooth earbuds.
- Comfortable. The buds are bigger than AirPods but they didn't hurt my ears like some other wireless buds.
- Some of the noise filters work better than others. I found the ones that enhance sound happening in front of you or behind you especially good.
- If you raise the volume on your music app, you risk drowning out the layered listening effect altogether, so be aware of that.
- Battery life is just OK. Two hours is on the lowe nd for this kind of product. Especially since Doppler Labs ultimately invisions a world where everyone wears these things all the time.
- Doppler Labs is working with sports leagues and museums to create experiences specifically for Here One. The idea would be you could hear play-by-play stuff from a basketball game, or get information on an art exhibit, through the app and through the buds. This is cool, but isn't necessarily a reason to buy these things.
- The $US300 price point is good for all the tech you're getting, but ultimately the product feels more expensive than it should be.